Tag Archives: reading workshop

Book Review: Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle

Tattoos on the Heart

As teachers, we often seek stories to help us explain or show concepts (i.e. compassion, kindness, patience) that are hard to define without concrete examples.  As readers, we sometimes reach for stories to help us understand or explore our spiritual side.  As mothers, we might search for stories to help us explain to our children what is meant by God’s unconditional love.  Tattoos on the Heart:  The Power of Boundless Compassion is an astounding collection of stories that can accomplish all of these tasks.

Tattoos on the Heart  demonstrates the power and possibilities of boundless compassion and kindness through the sometimes startling and always unique stories of the former gang members (a.k.a. “Homies”) Fr. Boyle  (a.k.a. “G-Dog”) has worked with at Homeboy Industries in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles for the past 24 years.

I love the title of this  book.  But after reading it, I was compelled to write on its cover (my husband hates when I do that, but I am saying I was compelled) an additional phrase:  “Kindness is the only strength there is.” Fr. Boyle’s own story illustrates the fundamental kindness that transforms not just those who receive it, but those who give it.

G-Dog knows how to tell a story with grace and humor (I would love to go to a mass where he gives the homily).  His detailed and riveting accounts  are tales of deep suffering, hope, grace and redemption.  So many of the stories show the intense power of unconditional love and acceptance as well as the importance of fighting despair.

Through these stories and Fr. Boyle’s thoughtful reflections, we learn about compassion, mercy, baptism, gladness, kinship and God’s presence in our lives. We discover more about meaningful success: standing in solidarity with those in need and persisting faithfully, despite numerous failures, and not abandoning our post, despite the lack of “evidence-based outcomes” (ring a bell, my teaching colleagues?).

I loved this book.  Many of these stories are now “tattooed” on my heart and remind me, as did so many of my former students,  that every life matters.   Meeting the world with a loving heart will truly determine what we find there ( not my words but Fr. Boyle’s).  G-Dog has a way with words  and an ability to articulate deep truths, such as the concept that true compassion for the poor: “stands in awe at what the poor have to carry, rather than in judgment of how they carry it.”

Whole chapters or even just a few of the stories in Tattoos on the Heart could be used in a late middle school (8th grade) or high school classroom as authentic, mentor text for writing narratives.  Or to explore the meaning and power of empathy and compassion (focus of chapter 3 of the book) with visual arts activities (yes, we all have tattoos on the heart and so many students pre-write more effectively if they’ve created  a visual representation first).

(Intended audience:  Ages 14 & up)

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The Power of a Post It

We’re pretty obsessed with the Post-It note. The colorful ones, the ones made on recycled paper, the sheet sized ones, the tiny ones, and even the ones shaped like mittens. Post-it notes may be the solution to world peace. If you, like us, get panicky when you don’t have a stack near by, then you may already be using all of our tips. But scroll on through to see some ways we integrate post it notes into our classroom. (And make it to the end for directions on how to enter our first FREE GIVEAWAY!)

The Post-It for Charting: (The big Post-it)
ImageTo make thinking visible we use charts. Nothing new here. However, if your students are like mine, every single piece of my mini-lesson has to be scripted without pause. Therefore, it can be tricky to make my students wait for me to chart out my thinking. Also, by the time I’m charting I often have forgotten the exact wording I wanted. By this time Shila is pinching Lily and Evelin is braiding Emma’s hair.

I find it helpful to write my thinking on a large post it note, and put it on the page where I will stop. Then, I can pull that Post-It off and put it up while I am saying my thinking–no pause, and the added advantage of helping my visual learners in real time.

During the students’ time to turn and talk to each other, I circulate, and find one example to chart on post it notes while I listen. In the debrief, I put the Post-It note with their thinking up, crediting the thinker, while explaining what they said. This picks up the pace of the lesson dramatically, and makes sure that what the student share out is pertinent and helping to move the lesson forward. (We hate to say that students sharing out is dead space, but in a ten minute mini-lesson, I find that calling on hands willy-nilly can lead to a long side trail of hearing about Jamar’s trip to Red Lobster the night before. This is obviously something I need to explicitly teach my students not to do, but the mini-lesson is not the place I choose to do that teaching.)

The students love to see their ideas on the board, and sometimes I allow them to sign their Post-It at the bottom before returning to their seat for independent reading time.

(A special shout out to the Chicago Literacy Group for introducing me to this use of post it notes. Check them out here)

The Post It for Arranging Seats: (The mini Post-It)

This trick was taught to me by my teaching coach my first year of teaching. Using small post-it notes, write a student’s name on each one. Then, code each note with any special considerations. For me, I do a 1, 2, 3 ranking based on their behavioral concerns or their ability to work with others in groups. I might also add a note for glasses, proximity to teacher, etc, to remind me to give preferential seating.

After that, I can rearrange the post it notes over and over until I have just the right combination of students.

The Post It for Note Taking: (The standard sized Post-It)
Here’s a picture walk. First, I put Post-It notes on whatever note-taking sheet I have been given to use. (This works for reading, math, or any subject)

(Obviously the Post-It notes are not perfectly aligned to the sheet. This doesn’t bother me, but if it’s annoying to you, I suggest you look at the step by step tutorial for printing on Post-It notes on this blog here.)

After taking the notes, simply transfer each note to that student’s page:

(I made this one blank to protect the anonymity of my students) Voila! Easy.

The Post-It Compliment: (Any Post-It, but shaped Post-Its work well here)

IMG_1606I like to use the shaped Post-It notes to give immediate positive feedback to my students. This can be as simple as “You did your homework” and as detailed as “You remembered not to kick Tony”. (Or maybe that just happens in my class.) Given my background and belief in Responsive Classroom, I do try to make sure all my comments are quantified and specific, and leave out value judgements (ex. You walked through the hallway silently vs. I like how you did a good job walking through the hallway). But you’ll have to make your own decisions about what to write :-).

I know one teacher who writes the post it notes ahead of time, using some common praises, and hands them out when she sees it happening in action.


In honor of our first Tuesday Tip, we are giving away a Post It Prize Pack!

We believe in Post-It notes, and we want you to have your own supply! Since Post-Its are expensive, it can be tempting to want to buy the knock off brands like stickies or stick ums. We recommend against this, as the notes tend to fall off of charts, out of notebooks, and end up all over the floor.

In order to start you off, we want you to win this prize pack for your home, classroom, or office! There are several ways to enter to win: (You can enter each way to get THREE entries)

1.) Comment below with your favorite use for Post-It Notes
2.) Like our page on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/teacherreadermom
3.) Share this page on your facebook page and tag us in it!

(Unfortunately we are only able to ship to a United States address.)

Thanks for reading, and good luck! (Drawing will take place on January 21st, just in time for next week’s tip!)